In Chapter Two of The Silent State I write about the decline of local journalism and the simultaneous rise in local council freesheets – or ‘pravda rags’ as I call them.
These propaganda sheets have largely come into existence since the 1990s with 88% not existing prior to this time. Concurrent with this subsidised propaganda, nearly one quarter (401 regional and local) independent newspapers have closed down.
This is disastrous for local democracy as it means there is no longer an independent journalist scrutinising the council. As I state in the book, transparency and direct, individual accountability is what keeps those in power honest so we must be very worried that many councils are now operating without either.
It seems MPs are listening and today The Times reported that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee believes council “freesheets” should be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading.
The committee criticised the freesheets, saying it was “unacceptable” that they often posed as local newspapers and acted “as a vehicle for political propaganda”.